Various Artists

Frisco Mabel Joy Revisited

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Peter Blackstock, founder of No Depression magazine, is to be commended for organizing a tribute to Mickey Newbury's landmark early-'70s album Frisco Mabel Joy, a forerunner of the country-folk singer/songwriter movement that is also something of a lost gem despite its relative popularity (that is, relative to the meager sales of Newbury's other recordings) at the time of its release. Blackstock himself, in his liner notes, admits to not having heard the original until the early '90s, when he plucked it out of a bin in a used record store for a dollar. He has made up for lost time with this collection, even if the result doesn't really live up to the spirit of Newbury's recording. That disc was a unique suite of songs and string-filled instrumental interludes that matched the spiritual hangover from the '60s to romantic distress and a drifting ethos for a portrait of a romantic loner. Though broken down into individual songs, it was really a tone poem. But by giving different songs to different performers for their interpretations, Blackstock defeats that unity of mood, especially when the interpretation is very different, as is the Meredith Miller Band's up-tempo treatment of "Frisco Depot." Michael Fracasso on "Remember the Good" and David Halley on "Swiss Cottage Place" capture Newbury's sense of emotional exhaustion well, and the inclusion of Kris Kristofferson singing "San Francisco Mabel Joy" (despite its title a song not included on the original album) is welcome. But like many tribute albums, this one is really a showcase for a group of relatively unknown performers. Still, if it draws attention to the Newbury album, its purpose will have been served.

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